On Friday, the historically leftist — but often quirky — American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) surprised many when it came out in opposition to House Democrats’ omnibus H.R. 1 bill, dubbed the “For The People Act Of 2019.”
As the name signifies, H.R. 1 is the bill label often given to a new House leadership’s most symbolic or highly pressing legislative priority. In January, NPR described the For The People Act Of 2019 as “a 571-page compendium of existing problems and proposed solutions in four political hot zones: voting, political money, redistricting and ethics.”
Among other things, H.R. 1 provides for automatic voter registration, makes election day a national holiday, restores many felons’ voting rights, cuts back further on states’ ability to control their own voter rolls, revives the previously gutted coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, mandates the disclosure of donors to politically active 501(c)(4) organizations, mandates that presidential inaugural committees disclose expenditures in addition to donors, and mandates that presidents and vice presidents must release their tax returns.
Some institutional free speech advocates have opposed H.R. 1 since its incipience. “This is obviously a pretty radical expansion of the regulation of political speech,” said David Keating in January, president of the conservative Institute for Free Speech, according to NPR.
The ACLU now publicly similarly opposes H.R. 1, which is due for a vote on the House floor later this week. Here is an excerpt of the ACLU’s Friday letter to House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ranking Member Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK):
The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of its 3 million members, supporters and activists, opposes H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019 as it was reported out of the House Administration Committee. We strongly urge the Rules Committee to allow floor amendments that would mitigate our concerns with the provisions that unconstitutionally infringe the freedoms of speech and association. …
[T]here are…provisions that unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens and public interest organizations. They will have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.
“While there are many aspects of H.R. 1 that we strongly support, the provisions outlined above must be changed to avoid unconstitutionally burdening political speech,” the letter concluded.
Although H.R. 1 is due for a House floor vote later this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that he will not even bring the measure for a full vote in the senior legislative chamber.
Conservatives have not been reluctant to glom onto the ACLU’s opposition as a means of arguing for H.R. 1’s heavy-handed, extremist mandates. “When groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, who have traditionally supported the Democratic party, echo my concerns with H.R. 1, it underscores why election reform legislation should not be developed in a partisan manner,” said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), the Ranking Member on the House Administration Committee, according to The Washington Times.